I’m pleased to note that this is going to be my 100th write up in the column designated for me on the PatnaDaily news portal. This milestone was achieved in the course of almost six years for which I sincerely compliment Shri Sunil Sinha, the founder-editor, whom I haven’t met in person up until now, and his dedicated team working in the challenging conditions of the city of Patna, Bihar (India).
I’m particularly indebted to the photo-editor who has always adorned my articles with appropriate graphic pictures, as also to the website-in-charge who has done an excellent job of cataloguing/storing every bit in the easily retrievable archive. While a self-less, non-profit journalistic undertaking like the PatnaDaily will always be a work-in-progress and there will constantly be room for improvement, the community of writers, commentators and readers the PD has created around itself also deserves gratitude.
My association with the PD started in 2013-14 when perhaps noticing through my occasional written commentaries, Sunil noticed my restless attachment to Bihar, and sent an email inviting me to give detailed expression to my thoughts and ideas on the PD’s opinion-site. He granted me absolute liberty to write big or small on any topic and didn’t unnecessarily apply his editorial scissors to my writings -- for all these years, only once a draft was returned for modification and an article couldn’t pass by his desk.
Even after receiving this offer, however, I didn’t immediately move into writing a full article for the PD as I was primarily lazy, and secondarily pessimistic about what a difference my opinion writing would make other than satisfying myself.
Then, I remember, once I was deeply troubled by the political mis-steps of Nitish Kumar, the Chief Minister of Bihar: On 16 June 2013, he had dismissed 11 BJP ministers from his cabinet and ended the 17-year-old National Democratic Alliance (NDA) between the Janata Dal (United) and the BJP. He was incensed over the NDA pushing Narendra Modi, a fellow co-equal CM from Gujarat, to the forefront for the competition for the position of the Prime Minister of India.
My anguish was not because I was affiliated with either of the parties, but the NDA, with all its limitations, was the only better option for Bihar and its dissolution would have meant going back to the alliance led by Lalu’s establishment. I knew the friends and admirers of Nitish Kumar -- or, the JDU cadre -- hadn’t heartily endorsed the idea of joining hands with the Lalu’s party, the RJD.
So, with an imaginary wishful thinking that perhaps through my advocacy on behalf of the people of Bihar, I might influence Nitish Kumar to change the course of his politics, I wrote a piece, titled: ‘Nitish and the JD(U) Cadre: Exploring Revival of the NDA in Bihar.’ Published on 22 Oct 2014, that was my first contribution to the Daily.
Almost 33 months after publication of that article wherein I had simply argued that this unholy alliance between Nitish and Lalu wouldn’t work largely because of the opposition of the average people, Nitish ended the JD(U)’s Mahagathbandhan with the RJD and resigned from his position as the Chief Minister of Bihar on 26 July 2017. He rejoined the NDA and within hours came back to power with his former BJP colleagues leaving the RJD in the lurch. I had a feeling that my prognosis turned out to be true.
Fast forward to 2020, I had a similar impression of validation when, appalled at the unfair newsroom censorship at the leading US newspapers, I wrote a forewarning piece, “Freedom of Expression: A Casualty of the US Race Agitation?” (published: 17 June 2020).
Three weeks later, on 7 July 2020, I found to my delight 150 writers and intellectuals, from Noam Chomsky and Cornel West on the Left to David Brooks and David Frum on the Right or the middle roaders like Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood, making the same point. In “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” published in the Harper’s magazine, they lamented the fact that “a new set of moral attitudes and political commitments” tended to “weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences in favor of ideological conformity.” This was a bold statement against the “cancel-culture.”
They echoed my apprehension when they said, “Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class” and so on.
Another gratifying moment for me came when I found one of my articles, “1967 to 2017: Bihar Celebrates Half a Century of Decay in Education” (published: 16 June 2017), referenced in a Wikipedia article on Mahamaya Prasad Sinha, the fifth Chief Minister of Bihar. This confirmed the fact that in this digital cyber age, you don’t know where your writings are being noticed.
It’s natural for an author to want to see his/her writing published. It gives an intellectual ‘kick’ when a written work is affirmed, quoted, contradicted or even ridiculed. In addition to all this, my approach to writing has been somewhat closer to George Orwell’s. He once declared that he wrote because there were some lies he wanted to expose or some facts to draw attention to, but his initial concern was “to get a hearing.” In the process, as the old trope goes, if, in my writings, I haven’t offended someone, then I’m “doing it wrong.”
From all the viewpoints, the 100-article journey so far with the PatnaDaily has been quite rewarding.
Dr. Binoy Shanker Prasad hails from Darbhanga and currently resides with his family in Dundas, Ontario (Canada). A former UGC teacher fellow (at JNU) in India and Fulbright scholar in the USA, he has taught politics and authored conference papers, articles and chapters on Bihar in previously published books in the United States, India, and Canada.
Dr. Prasad administers a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/OverseasBihari and has sponsored “Aware Citizenship Campaign” at a micro-level in his home-town.